Literary Magazine Reviews

Posted November 20, 2006

A Public Space literary magazine coverA Public Space

Issue 2

Summer 2006


A Public Space, destined to become a “big” journal from the outset, now adds the term “importance” to its resume. Though APS fiction shows surface divergences – teenage assassins (Nam Le), cult followers (David Mitchell), imprisoned women (Malie Chapman) – the aesthetic remains consistent. The essays, by contrast, point to the coutercultural bankruptcy of the present, and environmental destabilization of the future. Which raises a question: are APS’ creative efforts deliberately chosen to turn their backs on the problems of the day and retreat into a frozen imaginative house? Or to show that fiction, long familiar with every ripple of madness, has somehow become a spectator on the streets? One streetwalker here is the late Andrey Platonov: though the black wit of his “Macedonian Officer” may have sacrificed some of its nuance to translation, moments of Twainian force remain. The poetry in APS also remains behind the McMansion window-frame, though it paces more restlessly. W.S. DiPiero’s contributions are the exemplar of the group, mixing suggestive violence with purposeful absence, smattering of pop symbols, and deliberate understatement: a war veteran’s legs have been “trimmed by a panzer shell”; the solution to human suffering is seen through writing “an email to your senator.” It’s a world from which the Moronic Inferno has already broken into, washed over and receded from, leaving glass shards scattered through both the room and the garden. The arguments in APS are better read than criticized. And for that reason, if there really are any relevant floodwaters destined to rise in the world of literary journals, I suspect they’ll come in the form of APS subscribers. It’s a flood I hope to be able to welcome. [A Public Space, 323 Dean Street, Brooklyn, NY, 11217. Single issue $12.] Reviewed by Miles Clark

Bird Dog literary magazine coverBird Dog

Issue 7

Spring 2006


Enclosing 76 pages of innovative wordplay by contributors, Bird Dog constitutes a thin journal. But the density of material it contains ranks Bird Dog’s seventh issue among my favorites, one of the reasons for which is the cover—an electric orange with many dogs howling at a birdlike black gnash. My first dive into the material brought to face a labyrinth of giddy texts, where sentences sprang in every direction with ease. Most works deserve praise for their innovation. My favorite sentence is in John Olson’s “Music in Proust”, which runs: “If a piece of air is an oar it might be used to move a mind forward over a pond of paragraphs.” Not to neglect “… imagination alights on these small grooves and quills,” taken from “f#m” by Sueyeun Lee. Other fragments endure in my memory for a day or two after the first read, but the two pieces that stick like thorns in my mind even after a couple of weeks are Doug Nufer’s pieces, “A Ghost of Echoes” and “Dove Dove.” In the first, he switches the meanings of sentences by shifting everything but phonetics within them. Example: “I slip mouthwards into the barrel of the gun, wrapped sure” is re-rendered as “Eyes lip, mouth words, and do the bare-all love-the-gun rapture.” Three pages of these diptychs make me reconsider everything I’ve ever heard in life and wonder if it wasn’t the other meaning I was meant to take (men toot ache). “Dove Dove” is another wonder work of one page that leaves me wanting to become a Nufer groupie. Bird Dog mixes its textual ambitions in whorls, and has three pasted-in color printouts of artwork—imagine that! There is something for everyone eccentric in here. [Bird Dog, 1535 32nd Avenue, Apt. C, Seattle, WA 98122. Single issue $8.] Reviewed by Sheheryar B. Sheikh

Cue literary magazine coverCue

Volume 3 Issue 1

Winter 2006


This slender, elegant prose poetry journal is full of rhythmically lucid, semantically challenging works. The digital ululations of Andrew Zawacki’s “Roche Limit” crackle with imagistic suggestiveness never yielding to static; Jason Zuzuga’s tight-lipped description of abandoned cargo containers in “Donald Judd” proves that “nothing” can be bordered, defined, organized, and given a delightful shape. Most successful are David Lehman’s wry facsimiles, particularly “Poem in the Manner of Ernest Hemingway.” Cue’s esoteric subject matter may not always be accessible to the poetic amateur, and, oftentimes, the ironic voids of these pieces feel a little too deliberately constructed. In weaker efforts, emphasis is placed on the structure of the artifices themselves, resulting in “proems” that leave an impression of awkward solipsism – and little else. Brian Clements’ “Subject Positions” (a series of “grammatical” “definitions”), while containing several hilarious examples of syntactic peek-a-boo, more often seems recursively paranoid, as in: “We’re not going anywhere. We’re not going anywhere. We’re not going anywhere…” or, “I’m in the theater. I’m in the water. We’re in the atmosphere. Where are we?” Well, nowhere really. Though many of the charges levied against contemporary poetry could be brought against Cue – Los Alamosized imaginative flights, obscure obsessions, bias for wordplay at responsibility’s expense – these are ultimately shallow criticisms, for which the journal’s content does more than compensate. Cue’s contributors are nothing if not linguistically vivacious - thrusting their arms through the bars of the ivory tower windows, creating not passions, not explosions, but ripples through the hot, arid air with forceful, controlled, consistent motions. [Cue, PO Box 200, 2509 North Campbell Ave., Tucson, AZ 85719. Single issue $6.] Reviewed by Miles Clark

MacGuffin literary magazine coverThe MacGuffin

Volume 22 Number 3

Spring/Summer 2006


Each text in this issue of The MacGuffin is precisely located to aid the journal’s reading. Consider the opening lines of the first piece, Sara Lamers’s poem “California, Long Distance”: “Let’s drift through these looming / vineyards all afternoon.” Then wade into inter-national and inter-cultural exchanges in Elizabeth Khan’s “Saeeda” and Efrem Sigel’s “The Boy Who Always Told the Truth,” the former a family saga set in Pakistan, the latter a disillusioning tryst of a volunteer teacher in one of the African nations so terribly in need of things other than volunteer teachers drifting in and out of their deserts. The thick middle pages are full of imaginary leaps through age and time. In Oyri Thuhp’s “No Eyewitness” an old people’s home has residents fighting over a glass eye, mulling over a love triangle and determined to be crowned monarchs of their dotage. There’s a parable, “The Poet,” by Herman Hesse, and it blends into the issue as well as the poignant, and just enough photographs. Lynn Pattison, a late-but-resplendent-bloomer poetess is especially featured, with an interview and six poems, the first of which, “Catching Her,” is beyond compare in its evocative accuracy. It opens with: “Four minutes ago, the light told a different story, / but the man holding the camera wants this one.” After this halfway point the texts begin to embrace disintegration and a nostalgic longing develops until it is at crescendo near the end. Near the back pages are the aptly placed “Poetry Reading, State Prison” by Shelby Allen, which ends with “becoming what you are capable of”; and Connie Harrington’s “Texas Armadillo” flash piece “Texas Armadillo,” in which the said animal is “alive” and induces a man to reach for his “wife’s hand, and hold on tight.” What an armadillo. What an issue! [The MacGuffin, 18600 Haggerty Road, Livonia, MI 48152. Single issue $10.35ppd.] Reviewed by Sheheryar B. Sheikh

Portland Review literary magazine coverPortland Review

Volume 53 Number 1

Spring 2006


The 50th Anniversary issue of Portland Review offers a mixed bag of poetry, fiction and photography. The editors favor prose poems and unpretentious narrative verse, which is of varying quality. The fiction, however, is quite appealing, including “Plenty of Room in Heaven” by Jonathan Evison, which kick-starts the journal. The narrator writes of a depressed former philosophy professor: “He even went so far as to devise what he called the Sweats to Pants Ratio (S.P.R.), by which success was measured relative to the number of days a week one spent in casual versus formal attire, formal being anything with pockets.” Evison goes from Sartre to sweatpants in a single page; his story is witty and enticing, yet it’s incomplete even by the standards of a sketch. “Rainbow Party” by Matt Williamson is a more fully realized, effective piece. The story, a biting critique of the American military and its handling of Muslim detainees, is arresting, funny, bizarre, brave and poignant. In his ability to commingle the sacred and profane, the pop and the highbrow, Williamson recalls David Foster Wallace. While describing an event in which he and other U.S. soldiers make innocent prisoners perform sex acts on one another, the narrator admits: “Khalid’s been sulky ever since I showed him those pictures of his children. Later on-once we’d conclusively determined he had no Actual Ties to the Regime-I set him straight, and even apologized; they weren’t pictures of his children; they were postcards from German provocateur Gunther von Hagens’ controversial Bodyworks exhibition in Chicago. (‘I wondered,’ Khalid said, ‘Why my dead son should be playing basketball’).” Portland Review should be commended for not flinching in the face of such a strong, difficult and potentially incendiary work. The weak link in this issue is the photography, some of which evokes the inspirational posters hung in corporate offices. Few literary journals handle artwork effectively, and Portland Review is no exception. Small budgets generally lead to poor design values, which means that quarterlies should seriously question whether the inclusion of visual art is a wise option. [Portland Review, Portland State University, P.O. Box 347, Portland OR 97207. Single issue $9.] Reviewed by Andrew Madigan

Zahir literary magazine coverZahir: Unforgettable Tales

A Journal of Speculative Fiction

Issue 11

Winter 2006


Why did it take me so long to read this magazine? Like so many, I have shied away from “speculative fiction” not sure exactly what genre it might be (a controversy even among those who favor it), but what I have found here is a rediscovery of why I (like so many) was fascinated with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. And like those timeless classics read in my college days, Zahir is a journal I would highly recommend to teachers of short story and sci-fi/fantasy lit. This is fiction that takes our imaginations with it as it pushes boundaries, leaving no one behind. Kiel Stuart’s “How the Swan Queen Celebrated Mother’s Day” was among the most challenging reads for me – forcing me to stop continually trying to create concrete imagery to go along with what I read. Once overcoming this, I enjoyed the labyrinth twists and turns the story’s characters took. Peter Higgin’s subtle hero’s tale, “Monadnock & Bramble Jam,” was delightful for its use of language alone, combining words that created images of a strange and different world, such as “ancient stumps of lava […] still standing proud of the land,” and, “The sky was cold and filled with swollen stars.” William Alexander’s “Divination” is more of a “who-dun-what-to-whom-for-why” treat, reminiscent of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, whereas George Keithley’s “Appearances” takes us into a world of living among ghosts (mainly asserting what they are not); realizing we ourselves are but ghosts among our own empty directions. Both of Christine Boyke Kluge’s short-short surrealistic contributions, “Brain in a Cage” and “Copperhead,” caught me laughing out loud, but not without a bit of unease at the bizarrely realistic portrayals of that which is not real – or is it? That’s what I found most enjoyable about the quality of the writing in Zahir: its stories don’t rest on cheap turnaround tricks or oversimplified creations and personifications. This is carefully crafted fiction, sometimes eerie, sometimes fun, but always challenging the reader to move aside ideals of traditional fiction or join them with new methods to breed a very different kind of fictive imagination. As the characters in Chris Gautheir’s story, “Beauchene Preparation of the Human Hat” relate:

“Breeding new realities? Why the hell would anyone do that?”
“To make better ones.” The leader snorted. “Come on, even I can see that’s a no-brainer.”

[Zahir, 315 South Coast Hwy. 101, Suite U8, Encinitas, CA 92024. Single issue $5.] Reviewed by Denise Hill